Bethany Yellowtail Promotes Clothing, Accessories, and Other Heirlooms with Her Indigenous Heritage in Mind
In return, her collective of local Native artisans earn a majority of the proceeds.
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For Bethany Yellowtail, clothing isn't just an outfit. As a Native American, it's also an integral part of her identity. So much so that she created B.Yellowtail, a fashion brand that celebrates her heritage and supports other creators in the community along the way.
As a member of Montana's Northern Cheyenne Nation and raised in the Mighty Few District of the Crow Nation, Yellowtail learned about her heritage and its traditions firsthand. "I was so fortunate to grow up in Montana immersed in my culture and surrounded by community members who would always be making traditional clothing and regalia for gatherings," she says. "From the moment I sat down with a sewing machine in high school, I knew I found my calling." The rest, as they say, is history.
Joining Creative Forces
After graduating from the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM) in 2009, Yellowtail kicked off her career at BCBG Max Azria before becoming the lead pattern maker at several other private label brands. "For years when I worked in corporate fashion, I never saw myself in the designs that were produced, nothing that spoke to my experience as a Native woman," recalls Yellowtail. "I found myself designing on my own time because I wanted to see reflections of my own life and cultural experience."
As a result, she founded B. Yellowtail alongside Kim Meraz, her business partner and the brand's operations director. "We are so proud to be a female, women of color-owned and operated company, we even created jobs and expanded our team in 2020 amidst the pandemic distress," adds Meraz. B. Yellowtail is a fashion brand and retailer that aims to celebrate Indigenous design and creativity. The brand is designed in-house by Yellowtail, who draws inspiration from her upbringing. "My homelands, the people I come from, and the cultural teachings I've been so fortunate to have learned have always informed my process. Our ways are so rich with meaning and texture, I look at what I do now as a continuation of what came before me," says Yellowtail. "My last Heritage collection was inspired by strong, Apsaalooke matriarchs, leaders, and cultural bearers from my community."
Meet the Collective
In addition to Yellowtail's designs, the brand also hosts The B. Yellowtail Collective, a platform devoted to supporting Native American, First Nations, and Indigenous creators. When she recognized that local Native artisans were undervaluing their handmade, heirloom-quality jewelry, textiles, and accessories, she was moved to action. After launching in 2016, the online shop now features this handmade work and provides the respective artist with the majority of the proceeds. "Supporting Native American, First Nation, and Indigenous-owned brands is so important because it has a direct positive impact to these communities. Oftentimes these communities are disadvantaged by socio-economic disparity and a lack of resources among other barriers, that support in any form by means of advocacy, commerce, and awareness really helps to lift that visibility, and sometimes invisibility," says Yellowtail. "I was taught to find ways to give back, and I'm a firm believer that reciprocity benefits us all."
The Future of Design
As the company continues to grow, Yellowtail and Meraz are looking towards an exciting future for the brand, one that continues to support others along the way. "We hope to keep growing B.Yellowtail," says Meraz, "scaling the business, uplifting Native communities with our various give-back initiatives, and bringing along those for the journey as well."